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Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?: Philosophical Essays on Darwin's Theory (Prometheus Prize) Paperback – December 1, 2010

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Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?: Philosophical Essays on Darwin's Theory (Prometheus Prize) + Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science + Philosophy of Biology, 2nd Edition (Dimensions of Philosophy)
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Product Details

  • Series: Prometheus Prize
  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (December 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616142308
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616142308
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,277,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Few philosophers of science command the respect that Elliott Sober enjoys for the rigor of his investigations into the logic of evolutionary biology. In his latest, enthralling book he argues that Darwin’s theory is best described not as evolution by natural selection but as common ancestry plus natural selection. . . . Accessible, lively, controversial, this is a book full of good things, including a fresh look at Darwin’s position on group selection."
John Hedley Brooke, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion and director of the Ian Ramsey Centre, University of Oxford

"Philosophical essays are frequently enlightening but rarely entertaining. Elliott Sober’s Did Darwin Write the "Origin" Backwards? succeeds at being philosophically sophisticated, historically informative, and thoroughly enjoyable. Even readers who think they know their Darwin will learn much from this book."
Ronald L. Numbers, Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine,University of Wisconsin–Madison

About the Author

Elliott Sober is Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of nine other books, including Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science and Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference, which won the prestigious Lakatos Prize in the Philosophy of Science.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Massimo Pigliucci on January 19, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
[This is an excerpt from a longer review, soon to appear in Trends in Ecology & Evolution]

Few scientists are conscious of the distinction between the logic of what they write and the rhetoric of how they write it. That is because we are taught to write scientific papers and books from a third person perspective, using as impersonal (and, almost inevitably, boring: Sand-Jensen 2007) a style as possible. The first chapter in Elliot Sober's new book examines the difference between Darwin's logic and his rhetoric in The Origin, and manages to teach some interesting and insightful historical and philosophical lessons while doing so. For instance, from a logical perspective, of Darwin's two conceptual pillars -- the idea of common descent and that of natural selection -- the first should take precedence in the narrative, because one needs historical information in order to test adaptive hypotheses (if only evolutionary psychologists kept this simple tenet constantly in mind they would produce fewer just-so stories and more solid science: Kaplan & Pigliucci 2001). Instead, Darwin begins his book with natural selection and lets the idea of common descent emerge gradually throughout the rest of his magnum opus. Why? Because this "backwards" sequence was rhetorically much more effective, as Sober elegantly demonstrates. Yet another example that Darwin wasn't just a brilliant scientist, he was a cunning one too.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. Stephens on June 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book an excellent deep and thorough analysis of some of the questions regarding evolution theory. I would highly recommend this book for those interested in the topic.

Did Darwin write the origin backwards:

Sober carefully develops how natural selection and common ancestry are distinctly different ideas and that natural selection is causal but common ancestry is the most insightful concept in Darwin's book "Origin of Species". So even though common ancestry is more important, Darwin started with the causal argument. The concept he develops of natural selection being the force causing the branching of the tree of life is very good and important. He also makes the important point that natural selection is not the only cause for inherited traits but is a very important and the fact that it is not the only determinant does not weaken the argument for evolution as described by Darwin. The discussion on Darwin's principle that adaptive traits provide almost no information about ancestry whereas as non-adaptive traits provide strong evidence was well made and an important concept. He demonstrates that this principle is not always true but is true more often than not. He builds his arguments on very careful probabilistic logic in a very clear way. The only thing I did not like about this chapter is his going along with the idea that there was probably only one ultimate common ancestor following the typical arguments going against Darwin's more lenient perspective, e.g., the fact that there is mostly one genetic code (not true in every case) is a strong argument. There are a number of these arguments that support the one common ancestor idea, however, they are all based on the current living descendants.
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